'They can take me away, but they will not stop the lawyers' struggle'

Police race around capital – car lights flashing, guns in hand – to secure presidency amid widespread confusion
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Rumours had been rife for days. Last night, with armed police deployed across Islamabad once again, it was all too clear that the worst had actually happened.

All week newspaper and independent television channels had been speculating that General Musharraf – who seized power in a military coup in 1999 – was poised to invoke emergency powers to save his presidency. And at the Supreme Court complex in Islamabad troops blocked off roads and eventually detained the Chief Justice.

Last night, with the exception of state-controlled PTV, those TV channels that had been speculating so furiously all week were silent. As the news filtered through market places, shoppers streamed out, many on their mobile phones, seeking confirmation. Many mobiles went dead within the hour.

Across Islamabad, police were seen racing around in blue pick-up trucks, with lights flashing and half a dozen officers in the back, cradling ageing weapons.

Constitution Avenue, the main road that runs past the National Assembly, the Presidential Palace and the Supreme Court, was barricaded by traffic police. Many police were positioned in front of the Presidential Palace and at the end of Jinnah Avenue, the capital's main thoroughfare.

With no access to independent news, speculation spread quickly. Was Benazir Bhutto, who had recently left for Dubai under ambiguous circumstances, going to return? Was this a form of martial law or an enhanced state of emergency? Will the Chief Justice be sacked?

Although increased attacks by militants in the North-west Frontier Province, parts of Punjab and the nearby garrison town of Rawalpindi have been of major concern to Pakistanis, there was little doubt that these weren't the reason for the state of emergency.

"He is doing it because he fears the Supreme Court's ruling," said Asif Sheikh, a taxi driver, in words echoed by many last night.

Lawyers in touch with judges at the Supreme Court reported that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom General Musharraf had sacked in March, and seven accompanying judges had declared that the state of emergency was "illegal" and "unconstitutional". Soon, it was reported that Mr Chaudhry and fellow judges had all been sacked and police units were stationed outside the court.

On the orders of the Islamabad Inspector General, the police also moved against Aitzaz Ahsan, a leading lawyer who had been arguing against General Musharraf's right to be elected while in uniform, in the Supreme Court. Mr Ahsan had gathered journalists at his home for a press conference, during which he was told that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Unfazed, he said he had been "to jail many times" and that even if he was taken away "the lawyers' movement would not stop their struggle". Moments after he finished taking questions, police car lights were flashing outside. No one was allowed to leave. In the full glare of TV cameras, his supporters burst into a chorus of "Go Musharraf, Go!" as Mr Ahsan was driven away to the police station, raising a victory sign in defiance.